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Poison City

Poison City

20160229_poison-city_paul-crilleyPoison City (by Paul Crilley) reads a bit like Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch and a twinge like Charles Stross’s books about The Laundry. Probably more former than latter. And, perhaps, with a dose of Hellboy and Night Watch thrown in for good measure.

Gods, monsters, vampires, spirits, angels, demons, fae, and worlds outside our own, mixed up with folklore and mythology from across the world. Set against a South African backdrop, I’ve really enjoyed the first 200-pages of this book – despite my desperately poor reading speed and diabolical reading average this year.

I borrowed this from the library – as you can only get a hardback at the moment, following a release earlier this year – and I’m on my third renewal. I need to do better. I need to stick to the 25-pages of book a day target I intend for next year, but might as well get on with now. In the Goodreads Book Challenge, my effort stands at 3 books finished for 2016. I think that’s selling me short, but it might be right for whole books read. I need to find a way to account for articles, short stories, novellas and so forth. It’s all words and pages; all fodder for the creative process.

Gideon Tau works for the Delphic Division of the South African Police Service, dealing with complex and dangerous occult investigations. He has little support, aside from a cantankerous DCI from Yorkshire and a drunk canine spirit guide, but somehow he gets the job done – and that despite only a tenuous grasp of magic bordering on the amateur. While others in the Division have specialised, Tau’s grasp of ‘Shinecraft’ still relies on a physical focus – a wand – and sometimes he makes really bad decisions that land him in deep trouble with the wrong kind of entities.

All very entertaining and fast-paced. Feels a bit like an origin movie at the moment, skirting over a lot of ground with scant detail. The occult world holds a lot of surprises and here we glimpse dozens of them, with the lingering promise of many more books in a series somewhere ahead.

I can see potential in using this as the backdrop for a roleplaying game – Night’s Black Agents, World of Darkness or, probably, something driven by Fate. Light on magic, high on action, investigation and peril from entities beyond mortal ken. The Esoterrorists might work as well – as you’ll be wanting to Veil Out most of the action and magic seems more dangerous than useful in the greater scheme of things.

December 12th Update – So, I finished reading this over the weekend, having extended the renewal yet again.

Liked this a lot. Definitely an “origin” book for the series and without spoiling anything, which is tough, Tau makes a ton of enemies in the latter half of the book. He makes enemies amongst his friends, colleagues, associate organisations, angels, orisha and others – directly or by the result of his actions.

The state of play at the end of the books has multiple sequels splattered all over it with all kinds of angles – and I can see tabletop role play potential aplenty. Indeed, I can see even more potential now that I’ve finished the book than before. And angles on the world as well.

You could have a ragtag group of player characters made up of Delphic Operatives, minor supernaturals, wing-clipped angels, soul-damaged mortals, and possibly even Fae (though I’m inclined to believe they have a sordid and dark road ahead of them in later books that might put them mostly off-limits).

A game in this world would have all the repercussions of this book to deal with and still have a whole other world to consider.

Poison City was released in August 2016 and you can currently grab a copy in hardback or on Kindle. It’s well worth your reading consideration and certainly something I will come back to and re-read; most likely I’ll re-read with the intent to run a game against the backdrop, probably with Hollowpoint or the Cypher system.

Hollowpoint seems to fit for reasons that will become obvious as you read. The Cypher system with something dredged out of Gods of the Fall might work, too.

Book Pile: August 2016

Book Pile: August 2016

Beyond-the-Gates-of-AntaresThis past weekend provided some solid gains in the roleplaying department – and explain why I never post much in the thread about resisting purchases.

I got a dinged copy of 13th Age from Games Lore because I have heard so many positive things and had two good games. I couldn’t not buy it for £20 including postage. It almost seemed rude.

I have played this twice with Guy Milner – who runs a great game with fantastic bursts of compelling enthusiasm. I love Pelgrane for all the GUMSHOE goodness. And I have read so much good stuff. If nothing else, I would hope to find ways to adopt and adapt elements to other games I run. Failing that, it looks nice!

When it arrived on Friday, I also got Lone Wolf: Heroes of Magnamund come through from Cubicle 7, the second physical reward from Lone Wolf. It looks gorgeous, but I would never expect anything less.

I used the PDF for one of the games I ran at Seven Hills, so the physical book has been slow coming – and the whole KS remains glacial. I like the book and I enjoyed running the stuff out of the PDF – because it makes for a much more interesting group game when everyone isn’t a Kai initiate in the Lone Wolf vein.

Out of the box, Lone Wolf offers a very basic game – for a very reasonable price; but, you need a bit more to make it feel like anything more than a one-off or an introductory game for younger players. Having used Heroes to run a game, I feel it makes all the difference.

On Saturday, at Britcon Day #1 with All Rolled Up, I picked up The Force Awakens Beginner Game for the Star Wars game from Fantasy Flight.

I spotted this going for just over £20 – and it comes with the fancy dice that sell separately for £8 or more. I had noticed it the week before somewhere else, but £5 higher. I’m an idiot for buying new stuff, but I still have a budget!

I wanted to see what they might have tweaked for the setting of the new film… and when I get a chance to read it I’ll find out! I have enjoyed all the games I have run with this system. I continue to love the dice mechanic that drives the crunch and story alike. I know that this divides people, but I definitely lean toward the like it side – and this has BB-8 in it.

Finally, on Sunday, at Britcon Day #2, I had my eye on a wargame called Beyond the Gates of Antares, written by Rick Priestley (who wrote the original version of Warhammer 40K: Rogue Trader, back in the Olden Days of Yore) and published by Warlord Games. They had a stall directly across from us and the book just stared at me the whole weekend.

This is a wargame, written with a variant of Warlord’s Bolt Action system. However, I love the original WH40K setting and Rick has a great rep in my opinion. The game had a thickish background section and a narrative scenario section – and a supplement… and I just had a good feeling about it.

Last time I had a ‘good feeling’ about something I picked up The Black Hack and I picked up Symbaroum – and both of those good feelings panned out pretty well.

I have a mind to pillage the background – and elements of the rules – to run as a roleplaying thing later in the year. I might even consider running this with my own 214 system, but we’ll see how the reading goes.

When I can get round to it…

H is for History

H is for History

img_20160410_100429.jpgHistory has become the backbone of my life. Well, maybe one of the big bones in my arm. It’s significant.

I enjoy history like I enjoy a good book. I enjoy history books more than any other book for that matter.

Mind, I’m not necessarily talking about all history. Some of the recent stuff I find of interest, but I would spend a lot of time studying it. In truth, there’s so much history that if you spent more than a moment considering any given any element in detail you’d simply run out of time.

My wife often asks me whether I’d be interested in a book she’s found in a second hand or charity store. She’ll ring me up while I’m at work and ask would I be interested in “X”. Sometimes she’ll take a stab at a period of history and query whether she’s got the right bit.

See, I like my history late Tudor. I’m talking 1550 – 1603, but mainly Elizabethan. I occasionally roam outside that region, but that’s where I focus. For example, I have an interest in Doctor John Dee, who served as Elizabeth’s advisor and court magician, and his childhood extends outside that period. I like to know where people came from and what influenced their thinking.

Anyway, 1550 – 1603. If I cared to drill down further, I tend to look at the socio-economic stuff, the business of everyday life and living. Again, I’m not beholden to that view. I have books on espionage, sea battle, exploration, magic, European relations, religion, Shakespeare, armoury… but I keep coming back to the common people. What living in a farm or a specific small town boiled down to during this period.

I’m not certain why this sort of thing has become my core interest. I have no particular account for when it happened or why. I take an interest in the high-flying politics and the bloody warfare over land, religion and family – but I’ve a greater interest in urban development, begging, how weather affected farming and the way guilds changed work.

I like the nose to the ground detail of people living their lives, likely quite oblivious to the big changes sweeping across in the backdrop. Given the state of communication and the insular life of the ordinary people, you have to wonder whether many even knew when they were at war, when key nobles grabbed control of distant regions or even when the monarch died.

It fascinates me. I would definitely recommend that you pick a spot and look long and hard at it. Find a person or a place and dig deep.

C is for Cthulhu

C is for Cthulhu

CTHULHU_BOX2While HP Lovecraft created Cthulhu as one character of many, he has become a real focus. It seems that you can’t go to any geek event without finding something emblazoned with the green watery horror. Every game seems to have a Cthulhu variation. Every t-shirt, soft toy, and bobble-headed plastic figure range has, at least, one version with his Green Scariness emerging from R’lyeh. If you want to guarantee a small upturn in sales, put out something Cthulhu.

For many he has lost his horror and become something more about merchandising than the Unknown.

However, I do sometimes find myself wondering whether I can inject a little Cthulhu – or, at least, some lingering facet of the Mythos – into my own creations.

A good example from my own experience is that about a dozen All Rolled Ups have some obvious connection though sometimes just association by design title. The less obvious are things like Dagon and Hydra, which just happens to fit the watery look of the fabric. The very obvious are the likes of R’yleh Dreaming and the three Miskatonic University game rolls.

They sell. People like that association. I can’t claim it doesn’t catch me either.

I have several editions of the tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu, which defies explanation given the minuscule changes in the core mechanic over the last 30 years. I also have other roleplaying games with the same central gathering of character cast in a different light or seen within a different timeline Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark, The Laundry, World War Cthulhu, Achtung Cthulhu… the list goes on.

What’s the interest? How has this figure – and his monstrous associates – written by an early 20th Century writer – a relatively obscure one really – found such a foothold in geek culture?

I’m not sure I have an answer – but to see plushies on the shelves and breakfast cereals on the table (well, I might be kidding on that one) certainly plays with your sanity.

What’s worse, each time I play a new tabletop game – by hobby of choice – I do look for the possibility of a new Mythos angle. Does this game need more rugous and squamous adversaries?

B is for Books

B is for Books

That (below) is a picture of a sliver of one bookshelf. I think my bookshelves both excite and frighten me in equal measure. You might care to throw some curiosity into the recipe and a dash of love.

I do love books. No doubt about it.

bookshelf-3

People take holidays, I buy books. I would much rather get lost in the pages of a book than lounge on a beach somewhere. I could probably manage to sit in some room with a view and read – but it would have to be the right spot.

Somewhere near the coast or overlooking a landscape. Preferably somewhere temperate, as I don’t do well in the heat.

My curiosity for books might offer a sniff of a suggestion about why I own so many. I have quite a few – many unread, though with good intentions. I have read – or at least partially read – most. I’m not hoarding. I have donated a few short stacks of books to charity where I’m certain I’ve read something – or never will – and feel the need to pass it on.

bookshelf-1

What frightens me is that I know I don’t have time to read everything I’d like to – and that includes many works I don’t have in my library. I could do with reading more of the classics. I could do with more plays and poetry. I do have examples scattered amongst what I have, but many I haven’t laid hands upon.

What excites me about books is their ability to transport me. I’m not just being cute with that statement. I’m not suggesting a physical or mental translocation either.

When I read a book, I sort of spirit my thoughts away in a kind of Holmesian ‘Mind Library’ with comfy high-backed leather chairs, fine tea and good lighting. I can all too easily be doing something when I glance at a book – and fifteen minutes later re-emerge to the distant sound of my name being called.

bookshelf-2

Just to be clear, I haven’t passed out during the interim.

I just get lost in the words and the pages. Sometimes I can do the same with a trawl through Wikipedia, but it isn’t quite the same. With the right book in hand, I can disengage my anchor on reality and run with the words.

I’d be overdoing it to say that I find it exhilarating, but it isn’t far off.

Random Acts of Reading

Random Acts of Reading

currently-readingMy approach to reading bothers me.

I’m not certain whether it amounts to a lack of focus, a sense of boredom (upon a single topic) or the over-excited edge of wanting to read everything and now.

I can’t simply read one book. I apparently have to read ten at the same time.

And that’s just the ten I happen to have recorded in GoodReads.com at this moment in time. I might not actually be reading precisely those ten books. It could well be that I’m reading a slightly different ten books. I just haven’t had the chance to update the current list.

I suppose another possibility in respect of the breadth of reading could be location. I like to have books scattered around the house and whatever I happen to be nearest to will get read.

For example, I don’t have 2000AD included in the reading, but I do generally read it when I’m in the kitchen having breakfast first thing. When I don’t have a current issue to read, my fallback will be to my current preferred e-read.

I don’t have Maelstrom Domesday on the list. That’s sitting in the lounge next to my normal seat, with a few other random bits and pieces. I started work on a draft of a Maelstrom Sci-Fi game a couple of years ago, running to 14,000 words in the first draft – which Alexander Scott himself had a glance over to provide some feedback. However, the current toolkit aligns to the original paperback edition rules of Maelstrom, rather than Domesday more detailed lifepath approach.

Oh, there are DC, Image and Marvel comics in the downstairs loo. And SFX. Sometimes reading about work stuff simply seems like a bit too much effort, so I have something lighter to fall back on.

Anyway – all this diversity of reading material seems to help me continue reading, but it does splinter the sense of progress. And sometimes I give in to the urge to add something else. When I add a new book to the list, something else always seems to suffer. So, my reading of the Dungeon Master’s Guide and GLADIO have both slowed to an almost standstill, despite the fact I’m enjoying both. Instead, I have been reading the preview copy of the Cypher System (for a review on Geek Native) and started reading A Slight Trick of the Mind (on the recommendation of a friend).

At some point later this year I will have the opportunity to update GoodReads and catch up with my reading target by about ten or eleven books all in one go. I’m still going to be behind. However, I am trying. And I am reading.

Oops, forgot ReVisions, the book anthology of What If stories I’m reading in the garage…

The Challenge of Reading

The Challenge of Reading

2015-GoodReads-ReadingChallengeSetting myself a reading challenge has a varied effect, it would seem, depending on the year! I’m not sure what that means about how I spend my time or how events impact my opportunities and drive to read. Right now, I’m not doing as well as I’d hoped for 2015.

GoodReads has a feature where you can set yourself a challenge for the year. Tied into Amazon, GoodReads has a reason for you to want to read more – so, a challenge makes sense on many levels. Before Amazon stepped in, it meant the site got a lot of new information added my willing and engaged users. Now, Amazon can profit from the drive to read more.

Anyway, I have tried the challenge for the last five years. It started innocently enough in 2011. I had joined the site and stumbled across the challenge. I decided to start slowly, with a challenge of reading 24 books, which I managed.

Come 2012, I clearly felt I had some to prove. Well, improve – because my pace of reading disappointed me on many levels. I set a challenge of 52 books, which I managed to battle through again with some to spare.

In 2013, I aimed to read as much as in the previous year, but it wasn’t going to happen. Setting a target of 60 books, I managed a meagre 33. I might have burnt out the previous year. Or, it could have been down to uncertainty in the real world around work and writing. I’m pretty sure that was the last time I produced any lengthy work of writing in my own right.

Onward to 2014, I opted to draw the target down to 42. I had started reviewing roleplaying books for GeekNative in September 2013, so it seemed like a good fit. I could read a mix of books – for review and for pleasure – and find my stride again. It seemed to work, with target achieved and a good variety of books consumed. I read history, horror, fantasy, self help, roleplaying and more. I managed to read some Vance and Vonnegut, and a splash of MacLean.

I suspect I imagined that this could continue into 2015, but I find the signs bode poorly. I have been reading a mix of history and games, mostly. What I do know is that I have been juggling more books than making progress. Perhaps this comes down to adopting a research mode, as I have been doing some writing and some adventure design. I have events later in the year that need me to complete some prep, and that means making notes, dipping into encyclopedic volumes, and following a trail of leads.

Right now, I’m 6 books behind schedule on a target of 52 books for the year. I can see that target drifting ever further away, with echoes of 2013. However, I also find that I’m not too bothered. I’m reading constructively and with purpose. That I’m find finishing a book difficult has nothing to do with the success involved in that reading. I have the drive to snatch and run, rather than continue through to the end.

Perhaps I don’t need the challenge this year to feel fulfilled in my reading. Maybe I can return to targets in 2016 and the prospect of seeing books through to the last page?